KIEV, Ukraine — Protesters threw rocks and firebombs at lines of police on Thursday after government snipers shot into crowds of protesters, killing perhaps dozens of people and shattering a truce that was mere hours old.
Ukrainian television showed scenes of protesters being gunned down and others lying on the street as comrades rushed up to pull them to safety, carrying them on planks of wood. Oleh Musiy, head of medical service, said the number of dead is "from 70 to 100 protesters."
The Ukraine Interior ministry says 67 police were captured by protesters. Video footage on Ukrainian television showed protesters leading captured police officers around a protest camp in central Kiev.
RELATED: Ukraine explodes in violence
President Viktor Yanukovych said police were not armed and "all measures to stop bloodshed and confrontation are being taken." But an Associated Press cameraman said government snipers could be seen firing at crowds of protesters.
"We've passed the point of no return," said a protester identified only as Vitaliy, who was among demonstrators building barricades around Independence Square after the clashes and who didn't want his full name used out of fear of retribution. "Yanukovych can't be trusted even a little bit."
Foreign ministers from Europe were in Kiev hoping to restore a truce reached late Wednesday night between anti-government protesters and Yanukovych.
The diplomats have been threatening to impose sanctions on the government, such as freezing of bank account and travel bans to Europe. But opposition leaders said the government was massing military troops for a final push to destroy the protest encampments that have paralyzed Kiev for three months.
The White House castigated Ukraine police for shooting at protesters but also urged demonstrators to find ways to calm the confrontation.
"We are outraged by the images of Ukrainian security forces firing automatic weapons on their own people," White House press secretary Jay Carney. "We urge President Yanukovych to immediately withdraw his security forces from downtown Kiev and to respect the right of peaceful protest, and we urge protesters to express themselves peacefully. "
Shortly before the truce was reached Wednesday, Yanukovych replaced his army chief and the Ukraine Security Service said it was granted extended power to conduct an "anti-terrorist" operation nationwide.
On Thursday, Yanukovych halted rail service between Lvov in the West, which has aligned itself with the protest movement, and Kiev.
Some say the president's actions in agreeing to the truce then shoring up security shows he was playing for time. At the same time, the violence and deaths means a return to "normal" is no longer possible, protesters add.
"Anyone who is occupying any position in the government now should never work in any government institution again," Vitaliy said.
Some took that to heart: Kiev Mayor Volodymyr Makeyenko resigned from Yanukovych's ruling party along with 12 other deputies who urged law enforcement to refrain from violence.
"Human life has to be the highest value in our country," said Makeyenko. "I've decided to quit Party of Regions and to claim personal responsibility for the life of the city of Kiev."
The officials also called for reform of the political system, with more power handed to parliament, echoing the opposition.
The foreign ministers of France, Germany and Poland met with opposition leaders, then with Yanukovych ahead of a meeting in Brussels to decide whether the bloc will impose sanctions. French President Francois Hollande said there "will be sanctions" for those responsible for the violence.
Activists rebuilding barricades in Independence Square expressed optimism despite the violence.
"I think today will be a turning point for our revolution," said Igor Zhdanov, a protester in Kiev. "They started to surrender, we threw them back."
Others said the broken truce made it clear Yanukovych is playing for time and has no intention of finding a peaceful solution.
"This is not the end of it — it's just beginning," said Oleh Hrynyshevskiy, a surgeon, as he helped wounded protesters in a first-aid post in the hall of a post office on Independence Square.
One protest camp commander, Oleh Mykhnyuk, said that even after the truce call, protesters continued to throw firebombs at riot police on the square. As the sun rose, police pulled back, the protesters followed them and police began shooting at them, he said.
Protesters running about told USA TODAY the demonstrators had no guns with them, and they openly worry that Russia is taking too strong a hand in Ukraine affairs and is pushing Yanukovych to crack down on their movement.
Russia President Vladimir Putin was sending envoy Vladimir Lukin to Kiev as a mediator in the negotiations with the opposition at the request of Yanukovych, Putin press secretary Dmitry Peskov told Voice of Russia.
"A telephone conversation between President Putin and President Yanukovych was carried out on the initiative of the Ukrainian side, during which the president of Ukraine suggested that the head of the Russian state should send a Russian representative to Kiev to participate in the negotiation process with the opposition as a mediator," Peskov said.
Demonstrators have said they fear Putin will even send troops to invade, as he did during an uprising in Georgia in 2008.
Crimea, a pro-Moscow, autonomous republic within the Ukraine, may seek to secede from Ukraine if tensions escalate further, said the head of the Crimean parliament, Vladimir Konstantinov, according to Russian media reports.
The violence in Kiev began Tuesday when protesters marched on police lines and set fires outside parliament, accusing Yanukovych of ignoring the will of his people to enact constitutional reforms that would limit the president's power. They also demand that he sign an economic pact with the European Union that was years in the making before Yanukovuch accepted a deal from Putin instead.
On Wednesday, the Ukrainian Health Ministry said 28 people have died and 287 have been hospitalized during the two days of violence. Protesters say today that number is now 128.
On Wednesday President Obama condemned the violence during his trip to Mexico. "There will be consequences" for Ukraine if it continues, he said, alluding to possible economic sanctions against Ukraine's rulers. He acknowledged that Putin sees the situation differently.
"Our approach as the United States is not to see these as some Cold War chessboard in which we're in competition with Russia," he said.
John Bolton, former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations under George W. Bush, criticized the White House approach. Bolton said Obama is drawing an equivalency between the protesters and the regime, asking both to stop the violence when it is the regime that is to blame.
Russia's Foreign Ministry described the violence as an attempted coup and even used the phrase "brown revolution," an allusion to the Nazi rise to power in Germany in 1933. The ministry said Russia would use "all our influence to restore peace and calm."
Russia's foreign minister Sergey Lavrov laid some of the blame for the escalation in violence on Western countries "that interfered in events by courting the protesters."
Bolton said that means the Russians see that Europe and Obama will not take a strong hand in Kiev and that allows Russia to dictate events.
"Russia has never not intervened in Ukraine, that's the whole issue," said Ben Tonra, head of the School of Politics and International Relations at University College Dublin in Ireland. "President Putin has actively intervened in Ukrainian politics since the separation of Ukraine for the last couple of years."
Contributing: Luigi Serenelli in Berlin; Aamer Madhani in Washington; Associated Press